All my favorite influences:
- The overall aesthetic is very Bill Sienkiewicz meets Black Science
- Character designs are half Paul Pope, half Sean Gordon Murphy
- Robot designs feel a little Moebius, a little Masamune Shirow, maybe a pinch of Battletech.
- Ship design feels very Gareth Bourn (“No Man’s Sky”)
- Punk Zine, sketch and paste-up reminiscent of Jim Mahfood. (page 37)
- Hints of Ashley Wood and Jonathan Wayshak all over the place.
- Those gorgeous Frank R. Paul planets!
- I absolutely loved the Star Wars style “lived in” universe, particularly the use of older architecture elements. The Islamic window treatment set against Terry Gilliam’s 70s/80s office design on page 29 is brilliant.
- Colorful nature is so much fun. See: Top Left Panel – Thug’s suit (p. 44)
- I’m always going to love a futuristic courier or trucker story. Anything even remotely like Snow Crash will always be on my must-read list.
- I love the wild collision of concepts. Galactic criminal enterprises, strange religious interests, fun aliens/robots, and fever-dream designs color every turn. Even the subtle pulp hints like the pirate ships, the “Marakesh” style city, cyberpunk neon dystopia, and shifting between high- and low-brow styles all create a book that feels exciting, rich, and vast.
- That said, it’s little ideas that really make the difference here. A liquid planet with so much satellite interference that its tidal forces meaningfully change the diameter and circumference of the world. A graph that shows a monolith/obelisk’s appearances, subtly highlighting that its patter is increasingly erratic over time. I am here for these things.
- Character expressions don’t always match dialog (Page 28, 29)
- Graphic design is poor – their column and grid structures seem inconsistent at best (pg. 24-25). This could be a designer struggling to work in someone else’s (Hickman’s) style. Or it could be a bigger problem. No way to know the reason right now, only that it’s a uzual strength of Hickman’s books that’s now glaringly not.
- Inconsistent exposition – Why does a ramen diagram need an entire page? Why do the Bouweriz get a name, but the intergalactic plague is only called “the plague?”
- Stilted dialogue – (Page 44) “Excuses are what the mediocre call home, and for the tardy there are none.” -> Why are “mediocre” and “tardy” mutually exclusive? What exactly separates the two? And which is the courier supposed to be? This painful posturing goes on through that entire sequence. Hickman’s normal style trades on “sage wisdom” quite a lot (Avengers, East of West, Secret Wars), but being so lofty is a precarious high-wire act… and one I think this particular issue falls off of often.
THE PROOF IS IN THE PEDANTRY
- Star Trek III (1984) – “Klingon,” a primarily spoken language with some distinct words (lexical), aphorisms (idiomatic), and a rough structure (grammatical). It’s also a written language, with a unique alphabet that adheres to a number of typographic principles.
- Fifth Element (1997) and Lord of the Rings (2001) – Advanced languages, using not just words and structure, but vocal emphasis (phonological) and relative meaning (syntactical). Again, both of these have their own, proper typography.
- Firefly (2002) – A blended, hybridized language mixing elements of English and Mandarin (pidgin or creole, depending on the speaker.)
This brings us to Hickman’s and his noted use of alien scripts. However, regardless of what CBR and other outlets might tell you, Jonathan Hickman does not create languages; he creates ciphers. And understanding the difference between these things is foundational when talking about Hickman’s work. I’ll give a quick, 60-second summary here.